"Mr Watson, come here, I want to see you," said Alexander Graham Bell on March 10 1876 in the first telephone call. The technology pioneered by Bell was soon making it possible for anyone to hold conversations across the world in an instant.

The fixed line evolved into the mobile phone and eventually the smartphone. Today, we're not just holding instant conversations across time and space, but we're also participating in multiple chats across varied platforms, from voice to text to disappearing pictures, simultaneously.

It's what Professor Kenneth J. Gergen of Swathmore College, in his paper on cell phone technology, has termed "absent presence": we might be physically in a room, but our attention is elsewhere, and it's being divided into smaller and smaller chunks.

As this technological upheaval continues, how will our inability to concentrate on one task impact the way we communicate with each other over the next 10-20 years?

Is face-to-face communication set to become rarer and rarer in the decades ahead? We've asked some of the experts in the field on whether we can expect radical changes in the way we gain and hold the attention of another human being.

Layered communication

Scott Campbell is the Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan, specialising in the study of how mobile communication affects both public and private life. He sees different types of relationships appearing as mobile technology evolves:

"I think we are experiencing a trend toward increased 'layered' communication, with technology being used to manage multiple flows of information and communication at once.

"Sometimes this can detract from the quality of our face-to-face communication, but it can also enhance it - like when someone far away is integrated into a co-present group of individuals - for example, when grandma Skypes in to experience her grandson blowing out his birthday candles."


Even in 2013, there's a need to manage close, one-on-one relationships (your partner, family members, etc) with weaker, virtual ones (e.g. Twitter followers), and Campbell thinks technology will adapt to help us out rather than render us dumb receptacles to an endless stream of social media.

"In the future, I think we will see this 'layering' become more seamless and integrated into our communication experiences," he says.

"An example of movement in this direction is head-mounted interfaces, like Google Glass. These types of innovations keep the eyes more centralised, so that it's less like engaging in two different social worlds in terms of a screen we look down to and our physical environment."

Invisible technology

This idea of technology getting out of the way is echoed by Jonathan MacDonald, a respected speaker and adviser on technology's impact on society and business.

"The way we interact in the future will not be a technological thing but a human thing"

Having worked with the likes of Google and Apple in the past, MacDonald told TechRadar what he sees coming down the line in terms of the way the humble message will shift from the screen to an altogether more intimate experience: "Exponential growth indicates that by 2030 the average size of a computer chip will be the size of a blood cell and around one billion times more capable than today.

"Due to this, it isn't too far fetched to imagine the ability to communicate via emotion without an intermediary device. It is highly likely that much of the communication machinery will live under our skin. Literally.

"I think the way we interact in the future will not be a technological thing but a human thing," continues MacDonald. "Technology is becoming invisible and eventually that will leave sentiment and message.

"Whatever modern technology there is today that has physical form has, in my opinion, a questionable future."

Motion and voice controllers could make keyboards largely redundant in the future.